The highlight of the 1st round of hearings of Commission Members-designate were those of the three executive Vice Presidents on 8th October 2019 in the EU. One of these was the Social Democrat Frans Timmermans, who, as First executive Vice President, shall above all plan and implement the Green Deal for Europe.
The Dutchman Frans Timmermans, who, in his capacity as First Vice President in the Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker, had been responsible for improved law enforcement and the rule of law, shall develop a Green Deal for Europe under Ursula von der Leyen. As all other Commissioners-designate, he too had to attend a three-hour hearing before the European Parliament and answer questions in writing in advance. He used his appearance before the MEPs of the Environment, Transport and Industry Committees to explain his Lighthouse projects for the Green Deal in the coming period.
A concrete plan for implementing the Green Deal shall be on the table within 100 days of him taking office. However, even now the project seems to be very ambitious: based on science and with a lot of power of persuasion he wants to ensure that all Member States increase their targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 to -55%. The current target is -40%.
A particularly important sector in Timmermans’ plan is transport. His intended measures are not yet very concrete, but the targets have been clearly defined: emission-free cars, shift of passenger and freight transport onto rail by upgrading the rail network as well as making shipping and aviation more expensive. Timmermans would also like to convince non-EU countries to adhere to ambitious climate targets. Should the diplomatic approach prove to be ineffective, he would be prepared to introduce measures such as a carbon tax at European external borders. In doing so, the real costs of imported products would be reflected more accurately meaning that those with a lesser impact on the environment would be cheaper. Real costs would include the negative consequences for environment and people, caused by companies and borne by the public, and therefore reflect reality more truthfully.
In order to be able to implement everything, all parts of the Commission will have to cooperate effectively, as the responsibilities for transport and taxes as well as trade were assigned to other Commissioners. Hence, Timmermans emphasised the necessity that all had to jointly row in the right direction. However, he will play the most important role as all other Commissioners are subordinate to him as first executive Vice President.
Even if at first glance the speedy submission of an action plan within 100 days sounds very positive, this fast approach also contains critical aspects: drafts for regulations and directives are usually accompanied by comprehensive official consultation processes, which especially provide civil society and interest representations such as AK und ÖGB with the opportunity to voice their positions and concerns in advance. Based on an implementation within 100 days this is not or only realistic to a limited degree. However, if the action plan is “only” a communication on further planned measures and if it includes more concrete targets without legislative proposals, then the entire process until we will have concrete and binding measures in the EU in the fight against climate change, will take decisively longer.
On several occasions during the hearing, Frans Timmermans pointed out that a just transition, hence a socially fair transition had to be an essential part towards a climate neutral EU. However, he did not give any detail as to how for example the just transition fund should be financed. Yet, this aspect is vital to convince those Member States, who are still sceptical of the changes. In particular Poland with her coal and automobile part industry is still rather reluctant when it comes to ambitious CO2 targets. Also other Central and Eastern European countries as well as right-wing parties in many Member States are critical of or even deny the existence of climate change. This is why a few EU-critical MEPs, among other, ridiculed the movement “Fridays for future and its initiator Greta Thunberg. Timmermans skilfully countered with the statement that the content-related arguments of the MEPs in question had to be very weak if they could only resort to attack a 16-year old climate activist.
The vast majority of MEPs concluded that Frans Timmermans was a suitable candidate to implement a Green Deal for Europe. The vote in the European Parliament concerning all candidates for the new Commission will probably take place on October 23rd. If the majority of MEPs votes in favour of the Commission, it will start its work on November 1st 2019. Uncertain are still the replacements of the Commission Members from Hungary and Rumania, for whom no hearing date has been set yet. In addition, the French candidate Goulard failed in her second hearing and has been voted out by a vast majority and against the pressure on the MEPs by certain member states. By this the European Parliament showed just how important its role in the election of the Commissioners is. It could, therefore, come to delays in the schedule.